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One Medicine, One Health: Rabies

A resource guide focusing on the interconnected health of people, animals, and ecosystems.


What is Rabies?

Rabies is an infectious viral disease that affects the central nervous system by causing progressive, severe inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. The disease is caused by the rabies virus, a member of the Lyssavirus genus which is found in the family Rhabdoviridae. 

Hosts, Reservoirs, and Routes of Transmission

The rabies virus can infect a diverse range of hosts, both wild and domestic animals on all continents except Antarctica. Domestic dogs, however, are the most common reservoir; in fact, they contribute 95% of the rabies transmissions to humans in Asia and Europe. In North and South America, bats are the more common reservoir and thus cause the most rabies-related deaths in these parts of the world. The route of transmission from dogs or bats to humans is contact with saliva. This normally occurs by a bite, but can also occur if the human has broken skin that comes in contact with virus-containing saliva. 

Clinical Signs and Prognosis

Once the virus enters the body, it undergoes an incubation period of a variable length. Early signs include pain or discomfort at the wound site and fever. Later signs occur once the virus has reached the central nervous system, causing one of two types of rabies. In the furious version, signs include hyperactivity and erratic behavior. In the paralytic version, signs are less dramatic, resulting in paralyzed muscles and eventually a coma. Once clinical signs begin, the disease is almost always fatal, and death is a result of cardio-respiratory arrest. 


World Health Organization. (2016, March). Rabies: Fact Sheet. Retrieved from

World Health Organization. (2016, March). Rabies: A Neglected Zoonotic Disease. Retrieved from

Quick Facts from WHO (World Health Organization)

  •  Rabies is a vaccine-preventable viral disease which occurs in more than 150 countries and territories.
  • Dogs are the source of the vast majority of human rabies deaths, contributing up to 99% of all rabies transmissions to humans.
  • Rabies elimination is feasible by vaccinating dogs.
  • Infection causes tens of thousands of deaths every year, mostly in Asia and Africa.
  • 40% of people who are bitten by suspected rabid animals are children under 15 years of age.
  • Immediate wound cleansing with soap and water after contact with a suspect rabid animal can be life-saving.
  • Every year, more than 15 million people worldwide receive a post-bite vaccination.  This is estimated to prevent hundreds of thousands of rabies deaths annually.



World Health Organization. (2016, March). Rabies: Fact Sheet. Retrieved from

Don't Be That Guy...Vaccinate Your Pet!

Why do veterinarians care?

Considering the data already presented, it is clear that veterinarians have a vital role in preventing the transmission of rabies. This role is achieved by educating clients and providing appropriate health care, namely, administering the rabies vaccination. Following the principles of herd/population health, if a majority of a country's dog population is vaccinated against rabies, it makes it that much more difficult for the disease to spread from wild hosts. This in turn, protects humans from contracting rabies. For more information regarding vaccination schedules of various species, visit this website from the CDC:

Veterinarians must also be cognizant of the laws and regulations in their area surrounding the handling of animals who have bitten someone. Most actions that result from an animal bite include isolating the animal in question for observation, and of course reporting any signs of disease to the appropriate parties. For further information on this topic, see:

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